When Ben Davis retired from the military, he and his wife Katy joked about buying the local chocolate shop that’d gone up for sale. The joke quickly turned serious, and Ben found himself making a major career change.
This came after 20 years serving in the Iowa Army National Guard as an Engineer Officer in the 234th Infantry Combat Brigade. Ben also served two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he returned to the U.S., the military asked him to relocate to Davenport, but Ben, his wife Katy and their two kids decided they were happy living in Marion. And buying the beloved Marion Chocolate Shop further added to their commitment to the community.
They closed the deal in 2021 and Ben dove into the business headfirst. Through learning the art of chocolate-making and being a small-business owner, he was surprised to find some similarities between his old career and new one.
“My work in the military is not that different from projecting what I think we’re going to sell and making sure I’ve got the right raw ingredients, enough days to cook it and enough employees here to help put it together,” Ben said. “Iowa is also a hugely pro-veteran state and a great place for veterans to become small business owners.”
It wasn’t long before Ben was flourishing as a chocolate shop owner. He and Katy have since mastered chocolate creation and maintained the shop’s existing partnerships with other local businesses. They then set their focus on adding new flavors and using the community’s feedback for further inspiration.
Today, the chocolate shop continues its two-decade legacy of crafting everything in-house. All their creams, caramels, truffles, toffees, gourmet hot fudge and hand-dipped goodies are cooked in a kettle or copper pot, coated and packaged by hand. With full control of their products, the shop can also custom create anything its customers can imagine.
Though the transition had its challenges, Ben and Katy’s work paid off. Ben received the Small Business Administration Impact Award during the 2023 National Veterans Small Business Week for his military service and in celebration of his contributions to the local and state economy. Ben, Katy and Katy’s mother Cynthia also received a $100,000 Main Street Iowa Challenge Grant in late 2023 for the revitalization of the historic Coenen Building, which the trio purchased for the chocolate shop’s future home.
“We’re really excited about that project because we are so vested in Marion,” Ben said. “Seeing these dilapidated buildings get restored is just going to continue the success of Marion and Uptown – the soul of the city. Everything is going to radiate out from that.”
Once the renovations are complete, the new location will allow the chocolate shop to expand its retail section and have a more efficient workspace, as well as offer two new rental units on the second floor. These efforts, alongside Ben’s role as the president of Uptown Marion’s Main Street Iowa District and a member on the economic development subcommittee, prove that he’s proud to continue calling Marion home.
And Ben’s experience in logistics, planning combat operations, ensuring trucks have fuel and soldiers have food has prepared him well for small business ownership.“We want to be able to lead the growth and development of Uptown Marion and see it succeed,” he said. “I think the experience gained from the military has really been a big part of what’s made us successful here.”